The budget for 2014-15 of the Corporation of Chennai presented by Mayor Saidai S Duraisamy has proposed to go for public-private partnerships in select Corporation schools. IE had mooted this idea over a year ago and spent considerable efforts and time with the Mayor and other senior officials. Chennai Corporation runs 284 schools which have their own buildings and land. A generation ago, when education was not yet a flourishing business of private enterprise, the Corporation offered quality education. IE pointed to several illustrious leaders including management guru Dr C K Prahalad, the brilliant educationist and thinker Dr P V Indiresan and General Sundarji, among others, as outstanding products of Corporation schools. Over time, the quality of education offered deteriorated.
In contrast to the pressure for admission in private schools, student enrolment in these schools has been falling steeply - to 88,000 last year from over a lakh a few years ago. Some of the schools had to be closed.
Most of the schools have buildings and land resources worth a few crore rupees each but lack management and quality and quantity of staff. These are ideally located in different parts of the city. They offer the potential to be developed as prestigious community public schools on the lines of the US and other developed countries.
There is also another welcome development: of profitable corporates directed to spend at least three per cent of their net profits on CSR initiatives. Education can easily be an outlet for handsome funding by flourishing corporates.
IE found ready acceptance of this concept of PPP by a cross section of business leaders. These included
S Ramadorai, Vice Chairman, TCS; B Muthuraman, Vice Chairman, Tata Steel; R Thyagarajan, Founder-Chairman, Shriram Group and the senior advocate C Ramakrishna, apart from a number of NGOs. The involvement of these will help improve the management and the quality imparted, as also in making the Corporation schools centres of excellence in different parts of the metro.
With quality education offered in the different habitats in the city, criss-cross movements across the metro can also be minimised. Corporates can also proceed on scientific lines: they can take a census of children of school age in a radius of a couple of kilometres from a school and work on their enrolment. The involvement of the corporates would also look comprehensively at the health, nutrition and other aspects of the children concerned.
Such PPP mode will also provide education free or at modest cost. This will ensure a lot of relief to the middle and poor class citizens reeling under the exorbitant fees charged by private schools.
Of course, in a state riven by politics, parties in opposition are bound to protest this proposal and paint it as a sell out to the private sector. There should be no such fear as there will be no alienation of the assets. The business leaders I discussed the issue were not interested in tagging their names or those of their companies. The initial agreement can be for a limited period at the end of which the results can be evaluated. The Corporation should sort out the issue of the role of the employees. Private players should be assured of freedom to upgrade the quality of these as also to recruit on their own terms.
The Mayor has a reputation for running free coaching camps for IAS with good results. The current proposal is even more important as it will address quality at the primary school level.